One of the best experiences of our married life was when Pat and I made a Marriage Encounter inside a Federal Corrections Institution. With the help of other couples who experienced Marriage Encounter in prison, members of the Marriage Encounter Prison Ministry have developed a method to help us dialogue by mail.
It’s important that we both write our letters when we’re feeling our best-alert, awake and as free as possible from distractions. I start by reading my letter from Pat. I keep Pat’s picture handy while I read.
Before writing I take some time to focus inward and become aware of what I’m feeling. I ask the Lord to be with me as I write, to keep me focused on Pat and to be open and honest in my sharing.
I start my letter by telling Pat about my day-what’s happened since my last letter. This not only brings Pat up on any news, it also reveals where I’m coming from as I continue my letter.
Then to help me really make it a love letter, I tell what I most appreciate about Pat right now, or something for which I am particularly grateful, or something about which I need to ask forgiveness.
Then I re-read Pat’s letter and respond to it. (We find we are usually working on three questions at once. To avoid confusion, we number our questions as well as our responses). I answer any questions Pat asked or explain anything from question #1. Then I try to understand Pat’s response to question #2. I might have a few questions to ask or clarify anything in it. These questions and rephrasing make up the main part of our “dialogue by mail”, so I give it serious thought.
Then I take the next question from the sheet (I’ll call that question #3) and I answer it with complete openness and honesty. I try to share my feelings as well as my thoughts or opinions. (See list of questions below)
When Pat and I came to the point where we answered all the questions on the handout we took turns forming new ones. This meant that every other day, in my letter, I wrote a new dialogue question. I knew it was important that I not miss this because it would bring our dialogue by mail to a halt. And I didn’t want that. Sometimes we repeated old questions. Our answers were usually quite different the second time.
The important thing is that our Marriage Encounter weekend could have just been some super neat thing that happened to us, but not all that lasting, had it not been for one thing-we continued the dialogue technique after our weekend.
We took the same dialogue technique we used all weekend and worked on it and kept it going by mail. We made a commitment to daily letters and dialogue by mail. This marked the beginning of an ever deepening relationship between Pat and me. Our dialogue by mail is now part of our lives. It influences our phone calls and helps to make our visits more enjoyable.
Another suggestion was made by a husband on the team during our Encounter. He includes a Scripture passage in each of his daily letters to his wife. Pat and I like this idea and we take turns suggesting Scripture passages for each other.
I was pretty excited about our relationship at the end of our Marriage Encounter, but I am delighted to tell you that what we have now is far better than what we had then, and daily letters and dialogue by mail is what we’ve used to make the difference.
We once were newly weds. We’ve been married many years now, but we’re still weds. We use the word WEDS to remember the steps in Dialogue by Mail.
Write your answer to the question in complete openness and honesty. Don’t write what you think your mate wants to hear.
Make “I” statements as much as possible: “I like…”, “I dream of…”, “I am doing…”, ‘I’m frustrated over…”, “I feel lonely when…”.
Express feelings freely; don’t try to defend them. (Remember; feelings are neither right nor wrong.) Sometimes a feeling covers over another feeling: tension may cover loneliness, indifference may cover helplessness or woundedness, cheerfulness may cover fears or fatigue.
In short, reflect on the chosen question and express what’s in your heart as clearly and honestly as possible in a nonjudgmental way.
Exchange your letters by mail. When you get your spouse’s letter, read it twice–once for the head, once for the heart. Reach out to “take in” each other’s feelings and sincerely try to understand. For a time, put yourself in each other’s “shoes”.
Dialogue by mail. Check out your impressions. You can do this by rewriting what your spouse has said in your own words and sending it to him/her to be sure you understand exactly what meaning was intended. If you have questions or are confused, write back and, in a gentle way, ask for a clearer explanation.
Select the next question. Many questions are listed below. Or, take turns creating questions that help you to understand each other and to build a future together.
HDIF = How Do I Feel
WAMF = What Are My Feelings
Monday HDIF (How did I feel) about trying to dialogue by mail?
Tuesday HDIF when I write a letter to you?
Wednesday Describe a funny thing that happened to me recently.
Thursday HDIF when I pray for you?
Friday What thought of you makes me smile?
Saturday HDIF when I get a letter from you?
Sunday WAMF when I think of God looking over us?